Elizabeth Troutman Adams
Tiny bullet holes appearing on young leaves of cabbage are signs of a possible air assault on your garden. Whereas traps, barriers and raised beds are sometimes helpful tools for out-witting larger nibblers, like rabbits and birds, cabbage worms and loopers elude these defensive measures by fluttering into your garden and hiding their hungry offspring.
If you’ve planted crucifers—members of the brassica family, such as broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens or Brussels sprouts—you’ve attracted these green worms by planting some of their favorite foods. The adult butterflies lay their eggs on the bottom side of the foliage, leaving their larvae to feast on the plant. Just one or two silver-streaked green worms can ruin a perfectly intact cabbage plant in a few hours.
Other than keeping constant watch and pinching the camouflaged invaders away from your leaves, covering the plants is the most effective natural method of protection from these attackers. Fortunately, because brassicas don’t require pollination, gardeners can use row covers throughout the growing season to prevent cabbage worms from ruining their most vulnerable crops. For small-scale urban gardeners, common citrus sacks or onion bags found at the grocery store can be recycled as a layer of overhead protection for individual plants or rows.
Using scissors, remove the label and unfold the bag, which is usually tied in a knot at the end. Set the netting lightly and loosely across the top of the plant. If you feel you need a heavier layer of coverage, layer multiple bags across the top of your plant. To keep the netting from blowing away, use weed cloth staples to pin the edges into the soil. Stakes or even weights will also work to keep the netting in place. In addition to acting as pesticide-free caterpillar and worm protection, the cover can prevent the spread of plant disease and provided a bit of shade for heat-susceptible plants during the hot summer months.
About the Author: Elizabeth Troutman Adams is a public-relations specialist and freelance writer based in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. In addition to gardening, cooking and homesteading, she loves riding horses, practicing yoga, and spending time with her French bulldog Linus and husband Shawn.